It's been a while since I've ridden places where I needed a map. So long that the last time I did it I used an Eclipse handlebar bag with a paper map folded in the pocket…

Sadly the Eclipse bag is no more, and I'm thinking that my iPhone might do a pretty neat job of replacing a paper map. For those of you who do this, I'd appreciate any insights you can offer into that to look for in a bag and/or a phone mount.

One major concern for me is the ease of navigating in urban areas where situational awareness trumps studying the map.

  • 2
    Generally speaking, one holds a phone closer than a map (at least I do) so your eyes take longer to refocus. Consider a decent handlebar or stem mount for your phone.
    – Criggie
    Jul 29, 2016 at 3:35
  • Would it be fair to interpret this question as specific to "iPhone vs paper" or would buying a proper GPS navigation system be an option? Or an Android device?
    – Móż
    Jul 29, 2016 at 4:35
  • For me, at the moment at least, it is smart phone vs. paper and the kind of smart phone I have is an iPhone. My preference for a smart phone vs. a "proper GPS navigation system" is based on experience with car systems and the Garmin non-networked ones I've used just don't hold a candle to the phone based ones overall. Real time updates and distributed routing are just too compelling. But I was hoping for answers that were general enough to be usable regardless of device preference (paper counts as a device). If like to hear what works.
    – dlu
    Jul 29, 2016 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


I have used bicycle mode of Google Maps for this purpose. Of course Google maps is not available everywhere. The idea is to use the voice prompts for each turn. You may be able to follow a route created in other software, but I haven't tried that.

I've done it two ways. The first time, I arranged a small pocket, pinned to the upper left of my jersey. It looked somewhat unstylish, so the next few times I put my phone in the back pocket of my jersey. The first way was easier to hear. I didn't want to use an earpiece because it can reduce, as you say, my situational awareness.

There are issues with using Google Maps in this way, so It's important to review the route before you start. Use Street View to check places where the route turns. The main issues I found are

  • Sometimes it selects a route that is not viable for a bike, even though it supports bicycle mode. Again, Street View can help here. I prefer not to ride with 100kph traffic, or take my road bike on goat trails.

  • Sometimes the voice prompt is misleading, for example when telling you to "take the fourth exit" from a roundabout. Does that mean a U turn? Or sometimes telling you to turn right, when maybe you need to veer right. And because of GPS device and software limitations, it can sometimes get a bit confused about where you are. Again, reviewing the route helps.

If you hear the navigation voice saying things you don't understand or expect, then stop, get your phone out and see what's going on. The last time I used it I took a wrong turn in a hurry. At first it just said "turn left", but I kept going. When it started saying "make a U turn" I figured it was time to see what it was talking about.

The big advantage is that if you get off your route, it is already working out a new route to get to your destination.

In response a comment: Google maps does have the ability to produce turn-by-turn instructions. You can either print them or view them on your device. I have successfully used this method for 1000km road trips (by car).

  • 1
    How is battery life, is it possible to quantify it in a useful way (e.g., X hours or N km)?
    – dlu
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:37
  • 2
    On my (android) phone, battery life with sat-nav active can be about 4 hours, from recollection. Mainly due to accessing mobile data I think. Without sat-nav, a 3 hour ride using Strava uses about 15% of the battery charge, so I think the GPS device doesn't use much power, in comparison.
    – andy256
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:46
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    One handy thing with Google maps is that the bicycle mode gives a conservative estimate of the ride time. It assumes a quite low average speed.
    – andy256
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:47
  • Sat-nav = the moving map mode? Is the 3-hour ride with Strava using the GPS, but not updating a map? Wondering if there might be navigation software that doesn't use the map (perhaps just a list of directions with distance to go) and thus has better battery life.
    – dlu
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:50
  • 1
    Sat-nav = the moving map mode? Mostly, but I suspect there's also position data sent to a server, and route updates sent from the server. The map data is certainly the bulk of the network traffic though. Yes, Strava is just using the GPS.
    – andy256
    Jul 29, 2016 at 5:55

I mount my phone to the handlebar stem and use ridewithGPS when I want voice navigation. You have to pay for it, but I hear if you get off your route with Google maps it does silly things. ridewithGPS will show you a compass direction/distance back to your route.

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